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SGA Learns What An Ombuds and a Provost Are

This Monday, SGA learned two new Scrabble words and heard from DeShaunta Johnson, Ph. D., of the Ombuds office and Provost Linda A. Bell.

SGA first heard from DeShaunta Johnson, Ph.D., of the Ombuds office. Dr. Johnson is the campus ombuds for faculty, students, and staff at Barnard. She began her presentation by explaining what exactly she does as part of the Ombuds office. She is the campus “designated neutral,” meaning that she resolves disputes and conflicts on campus without taking a side. If a student is having issues with professors, departments, or other students, they can go to Dr. Johnson and receive coaching about how to resolve a conflict or receive more information about campus resources that may be able to further assist the student. Additionally, Dr. Johnson facilitates workshops for students about having difficult conversations and how best to express one’s truth. 

Dr. Johnson also underscored the confidentiality of the Ombuds office. She doesn’t take any notes while meeting with students, and she will not report a student’s concerns to other campus offices without the strict permission of the student. 

Audrey Petit, Sophomore Class President, and Chelsea Sinclair, Junior Representative to the Board of Trustees, asked questions about expanding the role of the Ombuds office and publicizing the office’s services so that students may better utilize them. There were suggestions to partner with RA’s who could tell their residents about the Ombuds office. To this end, Dr. Johnson mentioned partnerships with other resources on campus: she is a staff psychologist at the Furman Counseling Center, and with another Furman clinician who specializes in sexual trauma and Sexual Violence Response, she hopes to better support students who have been victims of sexual assault. With regard to issues of discrimination, she coordinates with Ariana González Stokas (the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) as well as with the Center for Engaged Pedagogy about issues relating to diversity and inclusion inside and outside the classroom.

The next presentation was by Provost Linda A. Bell. She introduced herself by explaining her academic background as a labor economist, and her research on gender pay gaps, including her findings that in companies with women as CEOs or chairs of the board there did not exist a gender pay gap amongst the highest earners. She spoke fondly of her time as a professor, saying that she was paid to read, write, discover new things, and spend quality time with the young people she taught. 

Christina Juste, Representative for Health Services, brought up the issue of professors not providing a list of their textbooks by the first day of advance registration. (This is particularly relevant to Juste’s role as Student Associate at Barnard’s First Generation Low Income Partnership (FLIP) library.) Provost Bell responded that professors were required to submit their lists of textbooks, but that some fail to do so when there are no textbooks required for a  course. Nevertheless, Provost Bell stressed that there was no reason why professors should not submit these lists by the first day of registration,

Grace El-Fishawy, Representative for Inclusive Initiatives, asked about the Foundations curriculum, particularly in regard to re-evaluating the First Year Experience classes, which include First Year Seminar and First Year Writing or Writing Workshop. Provost Bell discussed a re-evaluation process for FYE courses. Since 2016, she noted, there has been a shift in FYE curricula from “great books” to “critical conversations,” which include more diverse topics and authors. Provost Bell has been working with the Center for Engaged Pedagogy as well as with Wendy Schor-Haim, the director of the First Year Writing program, to foster more inclusive learning communities and increase the diversity of the texts and scholars being studied.

Emily Ndiokho, Representative for Campus Affairs, asked for more information about the process through which faculty members get tenure, and how tenured faculty members are reviewed. Ndiokho asked in light of tenured faculty members who have allegedly sexually harassed students but remain in their positions. Provost Bell was not personally aware of any such student experience but said that the process for reviewing faculty members that have violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (which protects against discrimination at institutions, like Barnard, that receive federal financial assistance). She then further explained tenure at Barnard. Getting tenure is an intensive seven-year process that requires input from colleagues, scholars in the field, and students. Although tenure does guarantee professors essentially lifetime employment at Barnard, it is not a one-time review. Professors’ evaluations are still read yearly, and the department chair and the Provost’s office will get involved if there is anything of a concerning matter in the evaluations.

When asked about a lawsuit against Columbia professor Joseph Paul Martin and an explanation for why he has continued to be employed, Provost Bell underscored the college’s policies, mandated by law, that allows for a thorough and fair investigation. Chelsea Sinclair mentioned that beyond individual circumstances, many students on campus do not feel well because of sexual assault, referencing Barnard’s new “Feel Well, Do Well” campaign. Sinclair stressed that the college must do better for its students, as a college for women and people of gender minorities, and further asked how the “Feel Well, Do Well” campaign might be implemented into academic life. Provost Bell iterated that “there is absolutely no place for sexual assault on Barnard’s campus.” Regarding the role of “Feel Well, Do Well” in Barnard academics, Provost Bell plans to work further with the Center for Engaged Pedagogy, as well as balancing the academic calendar so time periods like midterms and finals are not such a deluge. 

Christina Juste asked Provost Bell about academic accommodations provided for Barnard students who self-isolated in response to the outbreak of Coronavirus. Provost Bell mentioned that the Dean’s Office has designated a dean to act as the point person to support students who were in self-isolation. Additionally, there have been discussions at faculty meetings about how faculty might best accommodate students who have self-isolated.

Provost Bell closed her presentation with hopes for establishing regular office hours, where students can speak with her about what is on their minds, as well as other informal events where the students can better get to know Provost Bell and what she does.

Image via Bwog Archives

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